Grave [literally: grave in the sense of severe, not in the sense of burial]
Director: Julia Ducournau
Writer: Julia Ducournau
Cast: Garance Marillier, Ella Rumpf, Rabah Nait Oufella, Laurent Lucas, Joana Preiss
Seen on: 1.7.2017
Justine (Garance Marillier) is excited: she finally gets to follow her sister Alexia (Ella Rumpf) to university to study veterinary medicine. But the Alexia Justine meets there is not the sister she remembers, and she’s definitely no help with the hazing rituals that mean that strict vegetarian Justine is forced to eat meat. Eating meat has unforeseen consequences for Justine and starts a transformation process for her.
Grave had me hooked from the get-go and I found it extremely engaging, even when not everything about it worked for me. But it’s a strong film, especially for a first feature, and definitely worth seeing.
Grave has a great cast. It’s not only the second time (after Tiger Girl) that Ella Rumpf impressed me, but Garance Marillier does a great job to portray Justine in all stages of the loss of her innocence – from naive beginning to bloody end. And Rabah Nait Oufella brought a lot of energy to his (much smaller) role. All three are actors I’ll continue to keep my eye on.
Ducournau takes her strong cast and her good script, douses them in color (literally) and builds an amazing atmosphere from it. There were scenes where a very dark sense of humor became apparent, but for me the most impressive thing was the picture of the French university culture she painted – and I hope very much that it’s not an accurate, realistic portrayal because hot damn, everything that can go wrong, goes wrong here.
My good impression was tainted a little bit by an ill-advised sex scene in the middle of the film where Justine sleeps with Adrien. The problem was that Adrien is gay and not hinted at to be bi until that sex scene, which skirts uncomfortably close to being non-consensual as Justine keeps pressuring Adrien. It didn’t quite cross the line to rape, but it was close, and it made me all-around uncomfortable – and not in the way the scene intended. Make Adrien bi and more enthusiastic about sleeping with Justine and you have a great scene that’s important for her character development. But as it was, it jarred me out of the film.
I wasn’t taken too much with the car accident angle, either. That and the last scene of the film pushed the metaphor of Justine’s hunger too far to still work as a metaphor for me, which is a pity, because otherwise I really liked how Ducournau worked both the coming-of-age and the development of the sister’s relationship with one and the same metaphor.
But overall the good outweighs the weaker stuff here, and it’s far from being a close call.
Summarizing: Very good.